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Virtual Affairs - Infidelity Redefined by Technology

Parul Solanki Apr 29, 2019
Virtual affairs, or online affairs, have become very common, thanks to the easy access to various means of virtual communication - like chat groups, role-playing games, and email. We explore how virtual infidelity has been shaped by the available media, and impact of virtual affairs on marital relationships.
The Internet has changed the way we see the world. Blurring the demarcations of space, time, and culture, the Internet - especially social media and the various forms of virtual communication - have made a huge impact in the way we interact with people and develop relationships.
While in many ways the Internet has bought people closer, it has also led to a host of new problems, especially in marital relationships.
Virtual affairs, virtual infidelity, online affairs, or Internet affairs, whatever you call it, have the power to completely devastate the previously happy, romantic relationship with your spouse.
They are essentially defined as romantic or sexual relationships that are initiated through the virtual media, for example chat rooms, newsgroups, and interactive games. Cases of cyber sexting, pornography, Internet sex, and lurid messages on social media sites have wreaked havoc with many relationships.
The question to ask here is if these affairs can be defined as infidelity? After all, isn't infidelity or adultery related to sexual activity outside marriage. So what about the emotional aspect of these relationships?
Can a non-physical relationship with a person outside marriage create discord in the marital relationship, either due to significant extramarital conversation or emotional connect, and can this be defined as infidelity? Let's see the concept of virtual infidelity and how it has been drastically modified, or rather redefined by technological aids.

What Makes Virtual Affairs Click?

It is difficult to imagine a scenario where a married man in his 40s, who has never brought home an adult video in his life, suddenly transforms into a virile young man in his twenties in his online avatar, or a meek and docile housewife engages in an erotic chat session online.
However, as unrealistic as it might seem, these things do happen. So what are the possible 'temptations' that encourage these affairs?

⇒ Immediacy of Communication

All a person needs to do is switch on the laptop, enter a chat room and start chatting with someone.
It is that easy. Unlike actual relationships - where a lot of time, energy, and not to forget, monetary investment is needed to make the relationship 'click' - online relationships are easier to forge and extremely convenient.
Apart from chat rooms; forums, dating sites, social media networks, emails, and instant messaging have made not only our lives easier but also spurred online affairs. These sites are easily accessible, and often do not require monetary subscriptions.
This, of course, does not mean that people who are online, actively seek such relationships. A casual chat room encounter with someone interesting, or interaction with an old sweetheart from high school on social media can quickly escalate into a virtual affair.
What It Implies
While the casual encounters and long hours of chatting may seem harmless at first, when a spouse starts investing more time in a virtual relationship than an actual one, things start to get complicated.
Although there is no physical contact with the other person, it is important to remember that an emotional connect is being forged, which leads to the person becoming evasive, uninterested in the marital relationship, and simply cold toward his or her spouse.

⇒ Anonymity in Virtual Affairs

The fear of being caught engaging in an affair is probably one of the main things that stops a person from engaging in such relationships.
The fact that the identity of a person is anonymous can spur the temptation to engage in online sexual chats, or participate in role-playing games without the fear of being caught. The thrill that anonymity and the make-believe romance offers brings an excitement to the boring, humdrum life.
Moreover, the anonymity gives a person more control over what he or she says, or rather how they want to 'appear'. When a person is attracted to another, he or she wants to portray himself or herself in the best possible light. In real life, this can be a little tricky as the other person tends to judge a person by physical appearance and facial expressions.
In the virtual world, the identity is cloaked, except perhaps a 'screen name'. He or she can now disclose certain facets about oneself while choosing to hide others. This gives a person greater control over not only the content, but also the nature and tone of the experience in a virtual affair.
What It Implies
The inhibition that is there in real love affairs is far less on the virtual platform. Moreover, the connect with the other person in an online affair is less about the physical attributes and more about the communication.
This makes the affair seem more real, and the emotional connect is faster. A person on the net might display more emotional empathy, humor, and other attractive characteristics, which may or may not be true. However, the other person who assumes the personality displayed is real gets attached emotionally.

⇒ Escape from the 'Known Identity'

Dissatisfaction with one's identity and an easy escape from the muck of everyday life can lead to more time being spent outside a marital relationship.
Once the discontent festers and grows, a person claims a new identity online, which may be completely different from his or her real self. Instances of people taking on a new identity or rather an 'avatar' in a role playing game, and living a 'second life' with a virtual house and a wife, or posing as 'billionaires' are quite common.
The best part for the person is that his or her new identity is free of real-life problems, like unattractiveness. It is strong, free of any inhibitions, and doesn't even seem to grow old. The new identity is not plagued with problems related to money, house loans, or handling the kids.
So, a lonely middle-aged man might take on an identity of a 25-year-old man who looks like a Hollywood celebrity with good looks and loads of money. In fact, experimenting with different identities is very common on the Internet.
What It Implies
The different, and often favorable, identities that a person assumes in the virtual world can create a sense of detachment with the real self and also affect the intimacy with others. Moreover, if the relationship fails to work, then a person has the option of escaping with almost no harm.

⇒ Marital Discord

In situations where there is discord in the marital life, and a person feels unloved and uncared for, virtual friends or lovers can fill the void that is created in the marriage.
Fed up with the spouse and the routine fights at home, a person seeks solace by chatting and sharing the most intimate problems with an online friend. By establishing an emotional connect with the friend a person may be sowing the seeds of an Internet affair.
Poor communication, financial troubles, sexual problems, and separation from family and friends are some other causes that might add fuel to the fire. The Internet friend may give the person undivided attention, making him or her feel more attractive and beautiful.
Unlike a spouse he or she would ask simple, caring questions like 'Tell me about your day?' or 'Are you felling all right?'. The feelings of importance, or the ego boost that the constant attention provides, helps in forging a virtual relationship.
What It Implies
Feelings of incompatibility with the spouse start to surface, as the connect with another is established. Constant comparisons of the spouse with the 'perfect net buddy' and the need to live that 'perfect life', can rip apart the relationship.

Is It Worth Clicking?

Are virtual affairs a real deal or just a figment of imagination - like a fairytale story? Unfortunately, for the non-involved spouse it is real. While a person who engages in the affair might justify the online relationship as being harmless just because it is not a physical relationship, for his or her partner it is more than meets the eye.
When a person engages in an affair, he or she spends a considerable amount of time and energy in building that relationship. So, instead of talking to your wife or playing with your kids, you are stuck to the computer chatting and sharing your life's details with someone else.
This creates a breach in your responsibility, intimacy, and privacy, which can rip apart any marital relationship as easily as an affair with physical relationship. For the spouse it can be devastating to know that details about their lives, especially intimate details, are being broadcast to a complete stranger.
He or she might feel completely disheartened when the knowledge hits home that their husband or wife would talk to a stranger rather than confide in them. The result - anger, hurt, feelings of betrayal, and a painful relationship bust-up.
Apart from the feelings of the partner, it is important to consider whether it is worth sacrificing the relationship with the spouse for someone whose identity may or may not be real.

How to Deal with Virtual Affairs?

Watching out for those warning signs of a virtual affair is one of the best ways of dealing with it.
⇒ Does the partner stay up late in the night glued to the computer?
⇒ Does he or she shut the computer as soon as you enter the room or demand more privacy?
⇒ Is there a distinct change in personality and a withdrawal toward you?
⇒ Does the partner get angry for things and shun family rituals, like dinner together?
⇒ Does the partner display a cold withdrawal from children?
⇒ Is there an increased or decreased interest in sex?

If the answers to most of these questions is in the affirmative, then it might just signify an affair.
The effect of a virtual clandestine affair on a partner is significant. Marital distress and a risk of divorce or separation are some of the effects of these affairs.
Some spouses conceal the affair and just dub them as a 'passing phase' in a person's life. So can the distressed spouses just 'forgive, forget, and let it go'? It is harder than that. This is because in a virtual affair, some people just might refuse to acknowledge it as a full-blown affair and thus, have fewer feelings of culpability.
On the other hand, there are others who might be willing to rebuild a relationship. In such a case, marital therapy might be a way of rebuilding the trust, and help the couple cope through the aftermath of the affair.
The therapist should try to make the cheating partner realize that rationalizations, like no physical relationship, does not mean the virtual affair is not cheating. Establishing short-term communication goals by expressing the grievances and listening to the partner can help in repairing the marital commitment and trust.

Virtual Affairs and Divorces

In cases where therapy fails to work or the partners are unwilling to continue, some partners may seek legal recourse to end their marriage. The grounds for a divorce are basically the circumstances which end a marriage. 
Most of the states in America allow a 'No-Fault Divorce' where both the partners in a marital relationship agree to separate based on mutual consent. Separation or living apart for more than a year, irreconcilable differences, and state acceptance are some of the conditions in which a no-fault divorce is granted. 
On the other hand 'Fault-based Divorces' are granted when a partner did something wrong that justifies ending the marriage. Adultery, cruelty, mental problems, criminal actions, and abandonment are some grounds for a fault-based divorce.
So are virtual affairs classified as adultery and can they be the reason for a fault-based divorce? Adultery, in legal terms, is described as intimate sexual activity outside marriage.
The absence of a physical relationship and the lack of any coherent definition of virtual affairs means that these relationships - which encompass cyber sex, watching pornography, or sexting - are not classified as adultery.
Although it does not fulfill the legal definition of adultery, virtual affairs are equally, and sometimes even more, damaging. The emotional pain that it causes is devastating for a marriage, and sometimes, all the pain and the hurt may not really be worth it.